At Home with the Goff-Maidoffs of Chilmark

Deep in the woods of Chilmark off Tabor House Road, the earthly and the ethereal meet in the timber-frame home of the Goff-Maidoff family. Solid wooden posts and beams define rooms filled with light from the south-facing windows. The heavy timbers and massive chimney are balanced by the lightness of green potted plants, the lively hues of the wall colors, and the spirit of creativity that fills the house.     

Jonah Maidoff – stocky, earthy yeoman, builder of stone walls and a brick pizza oven – splits firewood and sews up a chicken ripped open by a hawk. Ingrid Goff-Maidoff, lovely and graceful, oversees the daily comings and goings of the household with a delicate touch. While their two children are at school, she writes poetry and inspirational words for the books she illustrates and her e-newsletter Portions of Joy.

They appear to trade personas when Jonah, an inspiring social studies teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, spends time in his study writing a comedia del arte play with the mysterious name of The Magic of Pants. It premieres at the school and is later sold to a publisher. Ingrid, done feeding chickens and stacking firewood, descends to the basement, where she manufactures the handmade books and gifts for her business, Sarah’s Circle Publishing.

Jonah and Ingrid live in this house with their daughters, Rose and Bella, ages thirteen and nine, and three cats. In the yard, six chickens with names like Soso, Bee, and Rhonda lay eggs in a colorful peddler’s cart with a curved roof that Jonah originally built for Ingrid to sell her books and crafts. The mile-long road to their house passes fields grown into woods, bordered by aged stone walls, land that was once part of the Goff family farm.   
The building of their house in 2000 was the work of many hands. Ingrid’s father, Island artist Clark Goff, designed the one-and-a-half story Cape with an intersecting ell. On weekends and after school, friends helped to build the first-floor deck. The Vermont Frame Company precut all the timbers and brought them to the Island on a trailer truck so long it couldn’t fit down the dirt road. In one day all the lumber was transferred to the building site in a pickup truck, and the frame was up three days later. The walls, pre-assembled insulated panels, arrived, and within two weeks the basic structure, minus the roof, was finished.

At this point, the family had left the house they owned on State Road in Vineyard Haven – “the last affordable house on the Island” when they bought it in the early 1990s. Because there was no roof in the new home, they camped out in Ingrid’s parents’ barn. Jonah was still teaching, so Ingrid, “contractor by default,” looked for a roofer.

“I found this guy named Dave [Keenan]. He was out roofing on a Black Dog building down at Five Corners. I said, ‘Excuse me! I need a roofer.’ He came and looked at the house and said sure he’d do it, but he said, ‘Before you put the roof on, you have to put in the chimney and before you can put in your chimney you have to pour the cellar floor. I know how to do all those things.’ And so he did. It was just luck to find him.”

Jonah and Ingrid wrapped the house in Tyvek and installed windows and floors. They hired their carpenter friend Kyle Carson of Oak Bluffs to help them and to oversee their work. Ingrid says, “In the end that was his job: just to keep us from really being sloppy.” Simon Etherington of Vineyard Haven initially helped Jonah with the wiring, then joined their “motley crew.” Jeffrey Enos of Edgartown, who calls himself The Plumber of Last Resort, put in the pipes and made paper cranes for the children during his lunch break.

Work has continued on the house since they moved in. “During February, when everybody’s traveling to exotic places, we’d paint our walls,” Ingrid says, pointing to rooms of Ireland Green and Morocco Red. The kitchen is painted a color called Suntan Yellow.

Beyond the house, near the vegetable garden, is the orchard, where Jonah built the pizza oven last summer. The orchard is the result of an impulse purchase. When Ingrid and Jonah saw some fruit trees on sale, they decided to buy a few. After they got home, they realized there wasn’t enough room to plant them. They would need to clear some land, which meant cutting down trees, which meant hiring someone to dig out the stumps. Two thousand dollars later, they had a place to plant their $60 worth of trees. Sometimes that’s just how things get done.

Before Ingrid and Jonah moved to the Vineyard, where she’d summered with her family, they lived in Los Angeles. He wrote screenplays and she performed music, a talent inherited from her mother Pam Goff, who sang in a group called the Islanders at the Mooncusser Coffeehouse in Oak Bluffs in the 1960s. Just before they moved here, Ingrid sang her own songs in the TV show Star Search, a 1990s precursor to American Idol. She was the show’s only folk singer and pregnant with Rose at the time. They wouldn’t let her go on-stage barefoot, as she wanted, because of the liability. In 1992 they moved to the Island to build a house and raise a family.     

Because Ingrid’s father knew the nature of the people who would inhabit the house, he designed it with their likes and habits in mind. The front door opens into a large entry hall, a sort of mudroom with lots of space for coats and boots. At one end is Jonah’s study and next to it is the bathroom where the sewn-up chicken laid an egg in the sink. At the other end, past Ingrid’s writing room, is the large open area containing the kitchen and living room. A family-sized dining table provides space for the girls’ many art projects. A big, antique, carved sideboard, a kitchen hutch of many cubbies, and an assortment of comfortable old furniture gives the house a happily lived-in feeling.

Thinking about their house, Ingrid writes, “I love the pictures of houses in magazines where everything is peaceful, nothing’s out of place, but that isn’t realistic for us. For us, home is where we are free to express our creativity and our imperfections as well.”

Ingrid is the one who spends the most time in the house – she calls herself “a bit of a homebody.” She developed her publishing business fifteen years ago as a way to make money while staying at home with her young children. She says, “My mom’s father had a writing room that had a stained-glass window. Growing up I always wanted a writing room with a stained-glass window.” Ingrid’s dream room has a colorful leaded window in the interior wall it shares with the living room. Bookshelves, a desk, and a high, pillowed bed make the room feel like a retreat from the world. Here Ingrid writes books of poems, blessings, and meditations with titles such as “Postcards from the Landscape of Joy.”

Under the sloping roof of the second floor are three bedrooms. The girls’ rooms are each filled to capacity with dress-up clothes and the makings of many projects. Bella’s room has a drum set and Rose has a collection of dolls, many of which she made herself. Between the rooms is a connecting tunnel under the eaves where they can meet and play.  

Family artwork of various styles from four generations covers the walls. The collages that illustrate Ingrid’s books are made using the prints of her great-grandfather Arthur Spear, the painter of the gauzily dressed, nymph-like mermaids that appear here and there on the walls of the house. Jonah’s father is a painter and his mother is a painter and sculptor. Her exuberant painting of flowers dominates one downstairs wall. Installed above the kitchen stove and the bathtub are hand-painted clay tiles from Ingrid’s sister, Island artist Heather Goff. Of the next generation, Rose loves to paint while Bella can whip off a pen-and-ink sketch in a few seconds.    

After the bustle of life in the big city and then downtown Vineyard Haven, Ingrid and Jonah still pinch themselves and hope not to wake up from the dream of living in such a house, in such a spot. Ingrid explains how the trees can sometimes sound like a freight train when the wind blows through the branches. Jonah adds, “In the bedroom, they’re so close when they leaf up, I feel like we’re in a tree house, which I like.”

Ingrid, reflecting on life back here in the woods, writes, “The other day, while I drove in our driveway, I thought: we don’t live in the middle of nowhere, we live in the middle of now-here – in the here and now in this beautiful place. It’s like heaven here, I imagine – heaven with New England winters.”